Sisters and CTZN Cosmetics co-founders Aleena, Aleezeh, and Naseeha Khan are simultaneously the most aspirational and relatable people I've ever had the luxury of meeting.
On one hand, I lust after their business-savvy and passion for inclusivity in beauty. On the other, after meeting them in a coffee shop once to learn about their latest launches, I want to ask if they'd adopt me as their fourth sister.
The trio has triple-handedly transformed the landscape of inclusive beauty with their cult-favorite, vegan, cruelty-free brand featuring a range of my personal favorite Nudiversal Lip Duo featuring 25 shades of nude, answering to the mass beauty market's dire lack of "nude" shades — they didn't just change the definition of the word. They made a new one.
Catering to every type of beauty isn't just Aleena, Aleezeh, and Naseeha's promise, it's their pioneering movement.
I know storytelling is a big part of CTZN as a brand. What story do you hope to tell?
Aleena: This is the story of three women of color who understand first-hand the feeling of being underrepresented within an industry we contribute to as customers. This is the story of three co-founders acknowledging that it is not just women of color who are underrepresented within beauty, but also all genders and sexualities and that the industry definition of "inclusivity" needs to be widened by far.
Our mission is simply for everyone interacting with the brand to feel seen and considered; our promise is that each collection we launch will have a shade that caters to every skin tone, or will provide one shade that fits all, backed by extensive product testing.
We're here to educate everyone that nude is not one color, which is why we created 25 nude lip shades, from a warm beige to a fudge brown.
Ideally, this is the story of how CTZN becomes the most authentically inclusive makeup brand in the beauty industry!
What has been your biggest challenge and highlight as business owners?
Naseeha: I would say our biggest challenge has been wearing multiple hats while making sure everything is still held to a high standard! As co-founders of a startup, the one person that is leading our email campaigns may be the same person who also runs the marketing and social media — so when you're balancing multiple departments, it is more challenging to achieve perfection and flawless execution because you simply cannot put all your energy into one lane. You're also accountable at every minute of the day, and cannot afford to switch off at 5 p.m. or on a Saturday!
Aleezeh: I would say our biggest highlight as business owners has been being able to have a platform to make positive change and to highlight what we think is truly important for people to know more about.
Enhancing cultural awareness has been our primary focus (check out our CULTUTORIALs where you learn about someone's culture through a makeup tutorial) but the current events in 2020 have taken that urgency to be vocal on topics that matter to another level.
In the past few weeks, we have focused on allyship for the Black community and crisis appeal in Yemen.
Being a brand owner gives you a real chance to positively influence others through spreading awareness, resources, and information — an engaged audience we would not have had to the same extent without starting this brand.
How much does coming from a marginalized community play into your business?
Naseeha: It has enabled us to conduct business through empathy, due to shared experiences with other ethnic minority groups and heightened awareness on how we have felt in the past in certain work environments.
It has also made us more mindful of ensuring that we have a diverse team of consultants and employees from different backgrounds on board and has made us more passionate about giving leadership roles specifically to women of color.
How do you feel social media and community building have changed the way you do business?
Aleena: It has had a direct influence on our decision-making, in the best way possible! These past few months, we have focused so much more on community building and it has also truly added so much more of a human touch to our brand.
We have gone outside of our comfort zones, showing our personalities to our community, by conducting Instagram Lives and IGTV segments.
So much has also come from encouraging direct dialogue between ourselves and our CTZN family — not only did our community help us choose the COVID-related organization to donate to for May and June, but one Instagram DM from a friendly follower resulted in a dialogue we were able to later share with our followers.
An incredible Black female activist Gayle Alexis DM'd our Instagram account and we ended up having a conversation on the BLM movement. Gayle then agreed to lead a conversation on "How to Be a Great Ally to the Black Community" that I moderated; we shared the recorded Zoom call with our Instagram followers.
We really love involving our community in what we do, whether it is helping us voting on a decision — or even to pass the mic to individuals who can spread knowledge on certain topics!
What advice would you give to your younger selves?
Aleezeh: Don't ever obsess over perfection — that obsession will manifest as an obstacle between yourself and the concept you dream of pursuing.
Mistakes will, unfortunately, happen on the way, so if you believe in yourself and in your idea — make an action plan and do it! See mistakes and failures as learning opportunities.
What can we expect from the future of CTZN?
Aleena: The consistency of every product collection truly being considerate of all skin tones, and for CTZN to continue to operate as a reactive brand — if something happens in the world that critically impacts our community, we will use our platform as an opportunity to discuss it and share knowledge.
Speaking of being reactive — we have a new product coming out very soon that is a direct result of something we are all facing globally at the moment — so stay tuned! Lastly, we will focus a lot more on enhancing cultural awareness through our content. More CULTUTORIALS in 2020!
What are your favorite accounts to follow on social media?
To what characteristic of yours do you attribute your success?
Aleezeh: I am very goal-oriented. If there is a task I need to complete, I will do it then and there.
Naseeha: Being a perfectionist. I always want my work to be presented with the highest standards; anything I create is always organized and presented beautifully.
Tell us a book you'd recommend.
Aleezeh: Malcolm X's Autobiography
What charities do you support?
Aleena: Yemen Crisis Appeal
Aleezeh: Orphans in Need
What is the item in your closet you wear the most?
Aleena: our CTZN merch (our Of the World hoodies are insanely comfortable!)
Aleezeh: My CTZN hoodie (this is not a plug lol)
Naseeha: Workout leggings all day every day!
What is the one skincare product you can't live without?
Aleena: I'm very low maintenance with my skincare — Glossier face wash and rose oil.
Aleezeh: My oil cleanser! I use EPARA Cleansing Oil
Naseeha: My Vitamin C serum
What is on your nightstand?
Aleena: Books and a Diptyque candle — currently Cleo Wade's Heart Talk is on the top of the stack.
Aleezeh: My galaxy lights
Naseeha: A Candle, crystals, journal and the current book I am reading.